To give Festival attendees a full spectrum of jazz programming to choose from this year, we are offering performances by artists from the classical side of jazz, to Cuban jazz, to African jazz, and even a jazz dance party. Spoleto is fortunate enough to have legendary pianist and composer Randy Weston performing with his African Rhythms Sextet at the Charleston Gaillard Center on Thursday, June 2. Weston has spent the past 7-decades composing and performing innovative piano pieces that celebrate the African heritage of jazz.

Here is some background information about the living legacy to get you excited for his show:

  • Born in 1926, Randy Weston was raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the cultural center of Brooklyn. His childhood was encouraged and surrounded by a musical community because every child in residence had to take some form of arts education.
  • Weston was trained classically on piano but it didn’t have the “swing” that he liked.
  • He celebrates the rhythmic African heritage of jazz and is one of its last living legacies.
  • The 90-year-old African King is studious, inventive, and versatile in performance styles; ranging from solo piano to jazz orchestras (such as the sextet he will be performing with at Spoleto this year).
  • Standing at 6’8,” Weston is a giant physically, spiritually, and musically. His greatest hit “Hi-Fly” is about his view of the ground from such a height.
  • After serving in the Army for 3 years during WWII, Weston worked in a music inn that was popular with the bebop musicians of the time. It was here that he made many of his musical connections by playing at night after a day of work.
  • Inspired by a talk with his father in 1961, Weston went on a pilgrimage from America to Nigeria and ultimately to Morocco in 1968 studying the music of these nations as he traveled. It was during this time that his jazz music started to incorporate more African elements. When he moved back to America, his music was still deeply rooted in African culture but he fused those elements with American jazz to expand on his unique sound.
  • Weston’s Father’s words of wisdom: “My son, you are an African born in America. Therefore, you have to study the history of Africa, when Africa had its great civilizations, before colonialism, before slavery.”
  • Collaborated with poet Langston Hughes to create his 1960 album Uhuru Afrika (“uhuru” means freedom in Kiswahili) which celebrates the influence of traditional African music on jazz.  
  • Weston went back to Africa shortly after returning from his first trip to help fight discrimination against African-American musicians, improve their labor conditions, and gain rights as musicians. 
  • Weston was named the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2001.
  • African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston, written in 2010, talks about his life’s journey and his travels from America to Africa and back again.
  • His most recent album is a collaboration with jazz saxophonist Billy Harper that came out in 2013 titled The Roots of the Blues.
  • Weston celebrated his 90th birthday early this year by performing at Carnegie Hall on March 19.
  • Most popular pieces: “Little Niles,” “Blue Moses,” and “Hi-Fly”


Quotes from the Jazz Giant:

  • “An artist is responsible to change society…Not only do you have to be good at your craft, but you have to make a contribution to society.”
  • “You never really learn Africa- you just take what you can… I’ll always be a baby with this music.”
  • Of the 1977 Nigerian Festival which presents artists from 60 cultures: “At the end, we all realized that our music was different but the same, because  you take out the African elements of bossa nova, samba, jazz, blues, and you have nothing… To me, it’s Mother Africa’s way of surviving in the new world.”